Cars are just one type of artifact that have found a good home in our new collections storage facility, the Main Storage Building. / Photo courtesy Cayla Osgood
With more than 26 million artifacts in our collections at The Henry Ford, storing them all can be a challenge—especially the large industrial, agriculture, and transportation objects. That changed a few years ago, when we began working on an exciting and important project for our institution—the creation of our Main Storage Building, or, as we call it, MSB. Our staff answer a few questions about our newest storage building below.
What is MSB?
MSB is a 400,000-square foot building adjacent to Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. Ford Motor Company occupies the front half of the building, while The Henry Ford occupies the rear 200,000 square feet of space. Today, 178,000 square feet of the MSB is used exclusively for collections storage. The remaining space in The Henry Ford’s portion of the building is home to shipping and receiving, our photo studio, office space, and institutional non-collections storage.
This 1936 photo of the Ford Engineering Laboratory building gives a sense of its scale. / THF240744
What is the history of the building?
Built in 1923–1924, the Ford Engineering Laboratory housed Ford Motor Company’s tool design, production engineering, and experimental engineering research departments. Henry Ford and Edsel Ford both had offices there and, throughout Henry’s lifetime, the lab was the true heart of Ford. The facility was expanded and remodeled several times over the years but had been vacant for some time before the agreement between Ford Motor Company and The Henry Ford was reached.
You can view hundreds of photographs and other artifacts related to the history of the Ford Engineering Laboratory in our Digital Collections, and you can learn about the design of Henry and Edsel’s offices in the building in this blog post.
Though we only recently acquired the building, this is not the first time our artifacts have been stored at MSB. This 1926 photo shows objects collected for the not-yet-completed Henry Ford Museum being stored in the Ford Engineering Laboratory. / THF124539
How did we acquire our portion of the building?
In 2016, we entered into an agreement with our neighbor, Ford Motor Company, to acquire half of the Ford Engineering Lab building. The contract allows Ford to occupy the front half of the building for office space and their corporate archives, while The Henry Ford occupies the rear 200,000 square feet, now referred to as the Main Storage Building, as full owner of that portion.
The Henry Ford’s collections management staff was very happy to visit MSB on our first day of possession, before any artifacts had been moved in. / Photo courtesy Cayla Osgood
Why did we decide to consolidate our collections storage?
Like many museums, The Henry Ford has faced challenges in storing and caring for our holdings, especially the large industrial, agriculture, and transportation artifacts that make up much of the collections. For decades, we rented offsite warehouse space to house these materials. With them came problems—poor accessibility, overcrowding, landlord and lease challenges, and an inability to invest appropriately in rental property. We have made huge strides in caring for and preserving our collections by moving into MSB, including improved access, easy-to-maintain storage environments, enhanced security, and a reduction of overcrowding in storage areas.
Pallet racking and thoughtfully packed artifacts allow us to fit tens of thousands of objects, both large and small, into MSB, while ensuring both their safety and ease of access. / Photo courtesy Cayla Osgood
How did we consolidate our collections storage?
As you might expect, moving tens of thousands of irreplaceable artifacts, many of them large, heavy, and/or fragile, from offsite storage into a new building was a challenge. Learn more about this long and complex process in this blog post.
How much of THF’s collection is housed in MSB?
The MSB represents more than 70 percent of The Henry Ford’s total collections storage space. The building currently holds over 40,000 artifacts, with more than 10,000 of these digitized and available for browsing in our Digital Collections.
Agricultural implements hang from a wire grid within MSB. / Photo courtesy Cayla Osgood
In MSB we had an opportunity to create a new collections operations workroom that acts as a collective workspace for multiple teams, including collections management, registrars, curatorial, and photography. In the workroom, we see collections items both existing and new to the collection. Types of work include cataloging and numbering (for tracking), creating storage mounts and boxes, and staging for research. We also pack artifacts to lend to other institutions.
Our conservation department utilizes two different lab areas to treat all artifacts requiring attention in the MSB—everything from vehicles to glass. Photography of smaller objects happens in the photo studio in MSB or in the workroom, while large object photography happens throughout the building—meaning our photography team is quite adept at working with a variety of space and other constraints. You can read more about some of our large object photography projects in MSB in this blog post.
Large artifacts such as these might be photographed in or near their storage locations in MSB for maximum digitization efficiency. / Photo courtesy Cayla Osgood
Beyond this ongoing work, we are still completing our move into the building—all 40,000+ artifacts are being organized, inventoried, and positioned into their permanent locations throughout MSB.
What enhancements are planned for MSB in the future?
As a significant addition to our campus, many enhancements are planned for MSB to optimize the structure for historic collections. Currently, we are continuing important infrastructural work, like roof maintenance and HVAC upgrades, so our collections have appropriate environmental controls to ensure their physical integrity for many years to come.
Once that is complete, we can turn our attention to maximizing our square footage for both access to the collections and issues of density. Specially designed storage furniture called compact shelving helps alleviate wasted aisle space while keeping objects safe and accessible to curators for research, exhibits, and digital uses. As we unpack, this type of storage furniture will allow us to make the most of the 178,000 square feet we have so that we can continue to collect well into the future.
We are so pleased to have this new space and look forward to sharing much more about the work we’re doing and collections we’re housing in MSB!
While we have a photo studio where we do most of our artifact photography using white backgrounds and strictly controlled lighting, many times we encounter things that are too big for this setting—for example, a car! In those cases, we need to take ourselves and our studio on the move, and our newest collections storage building, the Main Storage Building (MSB), gives us a perfect environment for that. While sometimes space can be an issue (there are only so many places you can store dozens of wagons and plows), we make the most of the room we have and get creative in the meantime.
For example, to photograph “The Busy World” automaton wagon, it first needed to be moved out of a row of wagons and into an open space to give us room to set up our lights and camera.
“The Busy World” automaton wagon in storage in MSB before photography. / Photo courtesy Jillian Ferraiuolo
The completed photograph of the automaton. / THF187282
Since the Unimate robot was featured in an episode of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation, we needed to capture new photographs of it for our Digital Collections before the episode aired. While we had a little more room to work when photographing the Unimate (this was before MSB was as full as it is today), we still benefitted from having the ability to set up all around it because it is extremely heavy and cannot be easily moved. We had to use the space around it to access both sides for our standard photography.
Photographing the Unimate. / Photo courtesy Jillian Ferraiuolo
It was a similar situation when we photographed the 1977 Ford Mustang II. Though now this area in MSB houses an array of agricultural equipment, such as plows and wagons, in 2018 we were able to use the open area to photograph the Mustang II for the first time so it could be viewed online.
Photographing the Mustang II. / Photo courtesy Jillian Ferraiuolo
This next example shows a more current look at MSB in 2021. As you might be able to see, there are many more vehicles now occupying the large area where we shot the Unimate and Mustang II. So when we were tasked with the job of photographing a 1925 Yellow Cab, we were unable to circle around it and had to work with our collections management team to move the taxi for us as we documented it.
You can also see that we created our own white background around the cab with tall foamcore boards (a little thing that helps immensely with post-processing in Photoshop). But our “studio” was surrounded by another car to the right and a wagon to the left! All this careful maneuvering and setup was necessary to get the final image.
Final photograph of the 1925 Yellow Cab Taxicab. / THF188014
Looking at the completed image, you probably would never know what it looked like when we were photographing it out on the floor in MSB!
My final example, the Ford COVID-19 mobile testing van,was so tall that it almost reached the ceiling in the tallest room in MSB. Since it’s a full-sized van, it isn’t easy to move—especially inside a building. In case that isn’t enough, its current neighbors in storage happen to be a couple of large fire engines. Regardless, we got creative again and we were able to get photos of the van despite these challenges.
Photographing the Ford COVID-19 mobile testing van. / Photo courtesy Jillian Ferraiuolo
Completed photo of the COVID-19 mobile testing van. / THF188109
Besides being an invaluable space to store an extensive variety of precious artifacts from our collections, MSB also serves as a functional space for us to use as photographers—so we can digitize artifacts even if they’re larger than we can accommodate in our photo studio.
The Henry Ford has nearly 26 million artifacts in its care—on exhibit in 82 buildings, housed in the Benson Ford Research Center archive, and stored in multiple storage areas. Caring for these collections is an endless task—light levels, temperature and humidity variations, programmatic usage, even the nature of the artifacts themselves (many items in our holdings were never designed to last)—all create difficulties from a preservation standpoint. Even the most apparently durable and indestructible seeming artifacts need to be cared for—whether on exhibit or held in storage.
For many years our greatest storage problems related to off-site storage in buildings that were not intended for museum collections and whose distance from campus made access difficult. This situation changed in 2016 when The Henry Ford entered into an agreement with our neighbor, Ford Motor Company, to acquire half of the Ford Engineering Lab, a 400,000-square foot building immediately adjacent to Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.
The Henry Ford’s facilities team began a complicated renovation process on the space, newly designated as Main Storage Building (MSB), turning what had been a cubicle warren of offices into a space suitable for storing historic materials. While the process of rehabilitating the building got under way, historical resources staff began determining where to place and how to move a vast range of over 36,000 artifacts—from giant printing presses and steam engines to tiny buttons and toy tea sets.
The first step in the moving process was to identify collections of similar items (for instance, plows) and create an accurate inventory of what was stored offsite. In this early phase of the project, we would gather anything and everything we thought could be part of this grouping, stage it in one area, and check that the accession number (a unique number assigned to every museum artifact that links the object to information and records on the object—essentially, a Social Security number for artifacts) on each item matched the record in our collections management database. When we encountered objects without accession numbers, we considered these “found in collection” items, and assigned them inventory numbers so they could be tracked in the in the future. After all the new records were created and accession numbers verified, we could then track locations using barcodes and scanners.
Implements lined up for inventory.
Vacuum cleaners ready to be packed.
Communications and information technology collections gathered for inventory.
Before packing, we always assess the condition of the artifacts. We look for mold, hazardous materials, or signs of infestation. In most cases, items were vacuumed or dusted before they were packed away, but sometimes they required more attention to mitigate future problems. In these cases, collections were either isolated or cleaned by conservation staff in one of two labs that were set up in the new building before being moved to their final location within MSB.
The conservation team (pre-pandemic) cleans oversized artifacts in our new lab to prepare them for storage in MSB.
When packing up the collection, we packed similar items together using archival-quality materials. The move team developed a packing system that could be applied to nearly all of our artifacts. This standardization helped us create more space-saving density in the new building, and helped us to move faster, as we didn’t need to reinvent the wheel every time we encountered a new type of artifact.
Our packing systems were designed to handle both movement and storage, and included these tools and tactics:
Pallet box containers are stackable gray containers that can be filled with small collections, often housed in custom-built boxes that we created.
Flat pallets are used for heavy objects secured to pallets with plastic banding. Sometimes we attach plywood to the top of the pallets to create a flat surface.
Flat pallets with sleeves are used for lightweight objects secured to pallets with Velcro or ties. The pallet is wrapped in a pallet sleeve for additional protection.
Crates. While we don’t build crates in our department, we do repurpose them for use with heavy, difficult, or fragile artifacts.
Soft-packing is wrapping artifacts entirely in soft foam or blankets.
No packing at all is sometimes warranted. Not everything can be packed with packing materials, so such items are carefully strapped onto or into a truck.
Packed collections ready to move, including flat pallets, custom boxes, and pallet boxes.
Our original moving schedule was spread over 24 months—but then came the COVID-19 pandemic. To meet the changing needs and budget of the institution, we streamlined our operations and adapted our process to accommodate additional staff and contractors to move as quickly as possible while maintaining our standard of collections care and keeping staff safe and healthy. Twenty-four months became nine months—nine months in which we processed, packed, and moved over 17,000 artifacts to complete the move out of offsite storage.
While collections operations staff handled the majority of the objects, we relied on help from three types of contractors: professional car movers, rigging experts, and professional art handlers.
Using professional car movers allowed us to move more than one vehicle at a time, which greatly increased our speed.
The Warrior is loaded into a semitruck (pre-pandemic).
The rigging experts had bigger forklifts, trucks of all sizes, and cranes for moving our largest objects.
A steam traction engine is lifted onto custom-built dollies to roll out of the offsite warehouse.
Finally, professional art handlers were called on to handle and move furniture from our collection, and to offer extra hands to pack and move glass, ceramics, and communications collections located in the warehouse.
Furniture collections stored in MSB.
We also mobilized our fellow staff members to accelerate the move. Registrars worked at the warehouse each week for six months, helping us complete the inventory phase of the move and soft-packing what they could along the way. Team members from the conservation department worked on artifacts as they arrived at MSB and also ventured to offsite storage during the final three months of packing to help clean the artifacts before they were packed. Also, we can’t thank our shipping and receiving staff enough for helping offload our non-standard objects. We could have never accomplished our nine-month goal without all of these dedicated staff!
On Tuesday, March 16, 2021, the final artifact made its way from the warehouse to MSB. The core team and all who collaborated were there to witness the 606 Horse Shoe Lounge sign loaded onto our truck for the final journey. The sign belonged to the “oldest and last” remaining nightclub from Detroit’s legendary Paradise Valley neighborhood. This last artifact represents the end of an era for Detroit—and for The Henry Ford’s offsite collections warehouses.
Team photograph with the last artifact to leave the warehouse.
MSB is now home to more than 40,000 artifacts previously located in offsite and onsite storage areas, as well as recent new accessions. Centralizing our collections in MSB is an important step in helping us advance collections care through increased access and improved environments. Most importantly, MSB has allowed us to consolidate a large portion of our collections and our collections work into one building, a first for The Henry Ford. While these items are now successfully located in our new building, we continue to work to make MSB truly shine.
Our move from offsite storage has come to an end, and as we continue to unpack, rearrange, and further consolidate our stored collections (there are 14 storage areas onsite…) we are looking forward to sharing more of what MSB has to offer!
(For clarity’s sake, it is important to note that the Fair Lane estate is a historic house museum, independent of The Henry Ford. The house is currently undergoing a major restoration. You can learn more about the Fair Lane estate here.)
The single document that best details the relationship between Sidney Houghton and the Fords is a brochure, more a portfolio of projects, published by Houghton in the early 1930s, to promote his design firm. From Houghton’s reference images, we can document many commissions that are lost as well as provide background for some that survive. Unfortunately for us, images of Fair Lane were not included in the 1930s Houghton brochure, likely because of the private nature of the commission.
However, The Henry Ford’s Benson Ford Research Center holds exterior and interior photographs of the house, taken at a variety of dates. Additionally, our archives holds a select group of Houghton’s designs for Fair Lane’s furniture. These are the only surviving drawings of Houghton’s Ford-related furniture. One of my greatest joys in researching this blog was locating the completed pieces of furniture in historic photographs.
The Story of Fair Lane
The story of Fair Lane began in 1909, when Henry Ford bought large tracts of land in Dearborn Township, the place of his birth. At that time, Henry, his wife, Clara, and their son, Edsel, were living comfortably in the fashionable Boston-Edison neighborhood of Detroit, not far from the Highland Park plant where the famous Model T automobiles were manufactured. Henry was considering options for building a larger home, where he and his family could have more space and greater privacy. They were also considering building in Grosse Pointe, a community where many of Detroit’s leaders of industry were constructing homes. They even bought a parcel of land there that eventually became the site of Edsel and his wife Eleanor’s home in the 1920s.
In the summer of 1909, Ford visited the renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright in his Oak Park, Illinois, studio. The result was a commission for a large estate along the Rouge River in Dearborn. Scholars believe that Henry Ford heard about Wright from one of his chief engineers and neighbor, C. Harold Wills, who previously contracted Wright to build a home for his family in Detroit. By November of 1909, Wright had closed his studio and turned his practice over to the Chicago architectural firm of Von Holst and Fyfe, with his best draftsperson, Marion Mahony, overseeing all of Wright’s remaining projects. Wright felt that his architectural practice was at a “critical impasse” and went to Europe to work on a summary portfolio of his career, published in 1910. He was accompanied by Mrs. Mamah Borthwick Cheney, the wife of a client. This scandalous situation seems not to have affected the Fords, as Marion Mahony continued work on Fair Lane.
Presentation Drawing of Fair Lane, 1914 / THF157872
The project continued slowly through the next few years, until circumstances in the Fords’ lives made securing a new home a priority. In January 1914, Henry Ford announced his famous “five dollar day” wage for factory workers. His home on Edison Avenue near the plant was besieged by job seekers and the Fords lost any semblance of privacy. They soon realized that that the new Dearborn house was a priority. In February 1914, Clara Ford, who had taken the leadership role on the new house, called a meeting of Von Holst, Mahony and related designers. A number of elegant presentations of the home were shown to Clara Ford, including the design above. Many of these are now in public collections and give us a sense of the proposed estate. Two can be accessed here and here.
Instead of continuing to work with Marion Mahoney, Clara Ford chose Pittsburgh architect William Van Tine to complete the house. Van Tine was known in New York and the East, and it is generally thought that Clara Ford was seeking to emulate the tastes of women of her social status. Another key factor was the direction of American taste: the Prairie style promoted by Frank Lloyd Wright and Marion Mahony was rapidly losing currency and Americans increasingly favored revival styles, including Colonial and Medieval Revivals.
When I look at images of Van Tine’s house, completed in early 1916, I am struck by the odd composition, such as the sloping horizontal rooflines, especially to the left of the front entrance. These seem derived from Marion Mahony’s designs. There are vertical, castle-like forms, such as the one just to the right of the entrance, which are not at peace with the rest of the house. The result is a hodge-podge of disharmonious elements that barely coexist with each other.
Planting Plan for Fair Lane Grounds Number 5, November 1915 / THF155894
The planting plan above gives us a sense of Van Tine’s arrangement of the house. To the far left is Henry Ford’s power house, which is connected to the house through a tunnel under the rose garden. The tunnel ends near the indoor swimming pool intended for son Edsel’s use.
Entry Hall from the Living Room around 1925 / THF126547
The main rooms of the house are indicated in an area labeled as “residence” on the plan. The first-floor entrance consists of a grand hall and wide staircase. To the right of the hall is a small library. The hall leads into what the Fords described as their living room, the heart of the house. At the rear of the photograph above, please note the player organ installed in late 1915.
The entrance to the music room is to the right of the player organ in the living room. It is by far the largest and grandest room in the house. The photograph above shows it in its final incarnation, shortly after Clara Ford’s death.
The dining room leads off the living room and is another grand room, although it lacks the scale of the music room. As you can see, all the large public rooms at Fair Lane are rather dark and heavily decorated.
Sun Porch, Identified as the Loggia on the Ground Plan, about 1925 / THF137033
The sun porch is unlike any other public room in Fair Lane. It was filled with light and was said to have been one of the Fords’ favorite rooms. Also, unlike the rest of the house, it was filled with wicker furniture.
As you can see, Fair Lane was a very dark and heavily decorated home. We know that the Fords—Clara in particular—were unhappy with the interior. For example, sometime in the 1920s or the 1930s, Clara Ford went so far as to paint the walnut paneling in the music room. This north facing room must have appeared very dark, especially on a cloudy winter day.
Sidney Houghton’s Work at Fair Lane
Records in the Benson Ford Research Center indicate that Sidney Houghton began consulting on furnishings for Fair Lane in 1919. The records and correspondence continue through 1925, with proposals and payments through the entire period. The only “before” and “after” photographs that we have are of the living room.
By 1940, the furnishings of 1919 have been completely removed. The clutter of the 1919 furnishings have been replaced with groups of furniture oriented around the fireplace. The whole arrangement appears coherent and logical. The furniture styles of the 1940 living room are a mixture of historic English and American. Is this the work of Sidney Houghton? While we know that Houghton was working extensively at Fair Lane, we have no surviving renderings for furniture in this room.
Like the living room, the master bedroom contains a mixture of furnishings in historic English and American styles. For example, the mantelpiece is described as a “Wedgewood,” as the colored decoration derives from Wedgewood’s English Jasperware, first made in the 18th century. There are also pieces that are American in origin, such as the William and Mary–style table in front of the fireplace, and the Federal-style slant front desk in the corner, to the right of the window.
This room also contains two twin beds, likely designed by Sidney Houghton. They are made of veneered walnut with inlaid medallions done in a Chinoiserie style, a western interpretation of oriental design.
Design by Sidney Houghton for Fair Lane, Bed, 1921-1923 / THF626014
The headboard and footboard, as well as the crest rail and legs, of this bed are identical to those on the twin beds in the 1951 photograph. Houghton may have presented this design to Clara Ford, and she chose to have twin beds without a canopy produced instead.
The opposite wall in the master bedroom shows us again a combination of English and American historic furniture. They include an American Queen Anne oval table in the left corner. To the right of it is a Queen Anne style dressing table, partly obscured by an upholstered armchair. What is of interest is the dressing table and mirror at the center of the back wall. These are Houghton’s designs.
Design by Sidney Houghton for Fair Lane, Bedroom Dressing Table and Looking Glass, 1921-1923 / THF626012
We can see that the dressing table matches the bed—the inlaid medallions are also done in a Chinoiserie style—so this appears be part of a bedroom suite. Indeed, there is another design that does not appear in the room.
Design by Sidney Houghton Design for Fair Lane, Bedroom Cabinet or Chest, 1921-1923 / THF626016
This piece likely was presented to Clara Ford and rejected, or, if produced, removed before the photograph was taken in 1951.
Design by Sidney Houghton for Fair Lane, Chest of Drawers and Case, possibly for Bedroom, 1921-1923 / THF626010
This chest of drawers appears to relate to the bedroom suite, as it is similar in scale, although it lacks the inlaid medallions.
Design by Sidney Houghton for Fair Lane, Ladies Writing Table, 1921-1923 / THF626008
This elegant ladies desk may have been intended for the Fords’ bedroom. Like the chest, it may have been rejected or removed later.
The Benson Ford Research Center holds more of Houghton’s furniture designs for Fair Lane, although none appear in the historic photographs.
Design by Sidney Houghton for Fair Lane, Center Table or Partners Desk, 1921-1923 / THF626002
This heavy, masculine-looking piece was likely not part of the bedroom suite. If fabricated, it would have been a large, clunky piece of furniture.
Design by Sidney Houghton for Fair Lane, Side Table, 1921-1923 / THF625998
This piece, done in the Louis XV or 18th-century Rococo style is a departure from anything visible at Fair Lane. Clara Ford likely rejected it.
There are also Houghton sketches and working drawings in the archive.
Design by Sidney Houghton for Fair Lane, Slant Front Desk and Chair, 1921-1923 / THF625994
Design by Sidney Houghton for Fair Lane, Side Table or Stool, 1921-1923 / THF626000
These designs were likely drawn on-site and presented as ideas for Clara’s approval.
As these drawings suggest, Sidney Houghton was extremely talented. He could work in a variety of styles and produced high-quality furniture. He transformed Fair Lane during the early 1920s from an eclectic mix to a more simplified combination of 18th-century English and American styles. This post represents the beginning of inquiry into the role of Houghton at Fair Lane, which should be continued over time. My next blog post will examine Sidney Houghton’s later work for the Fords and the end of their relationship.
Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford. Many thanks to Sophia Kloc, Office Administrator for Historical Resources at The Henry Ford, for editorial preparation assistance with this post.
Corey Williams, Dearborn Truck Plant Manager, will tell you that the culture at the plant where the F-150 is built is one of a kind. / Photo by Nick Hagen
Corey Williams has been a part of the Dearborn Truck Plant management team for nearly four years, promoted to plant manager in January 2021, and he’s worked at many Ford facilities in a variety of management positions over the 25-plus years he’s been with Ford. He’ll tell you with conviction that the Dearborn Truck Plant, where the Ford F-150 is built and The Henry Ford’s Ford Rouge Factory Tour welcomes thousands of visitors a year, is unlike anywhere else in the world.
“Every Ford plant has the same goals, metrics and objectives—we all want to deliver the best, highest-quality product to the customer that we can,” said Williams. “But at Dearborn Truck, the culture is different. And when I say different, I mean everyone here understands that we are building America’s bestselling truck and the sense of pride in that is like no other.”
“Everybody knows that we are leaders, never followers,” he added. “That if it can be done, it will be done at DTP [Dearborn Truck Plant]—at not only the highest rate and volumes but with the greatest efficiency.”
Ford F-150 Truck Assembly at the Dearborn Truck Plant at the Ford Rouge Complex
That attitude and mental mantra fit perfectly with Williams’ persona. He’s not afraid to admit he’s an ultracompetitive guy who feeds off having to face the next challenge.
“I’ve been a sports guy my entire life,” he said. “I love to compete and like the idea of a team—the collaborative part of it and how you have to work together toward a common goal.”
And when asked about the new set of players—vehicles as well as workers—that are now ready to call the Ford Rouge Complex home along with Dearborn Truck Plant, Williams couldn’t be more excited. In 2022, the new Rouge Electric Vehicle Center is slated to open, employing hundreds of new hires and manufacturing the all-new battery-electric F-150. “Not a day goes by that people don’t ask me about our new hybrid, the EV center, and electric truck—the buzz and amazement just grows,” said Williams. “It’s a huge step in continuing our truck leadership and dominance. We are changing the game.”
Play to Work
Staff from Ford Motor Company and The Henry Ford trace some of their interest in STEM and manufacturing to childhood television, toys, and games, like this 1960s Clue set in our collection. / THF188744
We asked Corey and other members of Ford Motor Company’s vehicle launch team and The Henry Ford’s Ford Rouge Factory Tour what games, TV shows, toys, etc., they remember growing up that helped spark their interest in STEM and manufacturing.
Corey Williams, Plant Manager at Ford: Playing team sports in his younger years is a key precursor to his manufacturing management skills today. “Involving yourself in team events where you need to collaborate and compete as a team toward a common objective is extremely relevant from a STEM standpoint,” he said.
James Housel, Bodyshop Launch Manager at Ford: “Saturday morning cartoons watching ‘Wile E. Coyote, SUUUUUUPER Genius.’” The cartoon character is always obtaining crazy gizmos from fictional mail-order company Acme in the hopes of capturing the Road Runner.
Cynthia Jones,Director, Museum Experiences & Engagement, at The Henry Ford: “I loved to play the board games Risk and Clue. Both of those helped me identify patterns, test hypotheses, set strategy goals and learn from failure.” Like Williams, Jones, a dedicated swimmer through high school, credits competitive sports too.
Doug Plond, Senior Manager, Ford Rouge Factory Tour, at The Henry Ford: “As a really young tyke, I loved to build with my red cardboard brick set—knocking them down was the fun part. Once I got a bit older, I moved up to Lincoln Logs.”
Do you ever wonder what treasures our collections might be hiding? What’s one thing you never really associated with The Henry Ford? Is it poetry? Then you are in luck. In November, our Instagram story for History Outside the Box focused on poetry within the collections of The Henry Ford and we are here now to dive a bit deeper into those holdings.
While you probably associate our research library with wonderful texts related to what you see on the museum floor, you may be surprised to learn we also have a small but mighty collection of poetry. Some of these rhyming collections found their way to The Henry Ford by way of some of our favorite people, like this collection of John Milton poems owned by the Wright family.
Book Used by the Wright Family, The Poetical Works of John Milton, 1888. / THF241725
We’ve also collected poetry surrounding some of our Greenfield Village mainstays, such as the Robert Frost Home. This house was used by none other than poet Robert Frost during his time in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It now lives in Greenfield Village and offers a lasting connection to the poet who still remains in our hearts and syllabi today.
Robert Frost Home on Original Site, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1923. / THF235307
Robert Frost Home in Greenfield Village. / THF1883
Frost is not the only poet that has a lasting connection with The Henry Ford—Henry Ford and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow have a lot more in common than meets the eye. Longfellow wrote one of his best-known collections, Tales of a Wayside Inn, about the Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Massachusetts. This same inn was then bought by Henry Ford with the intention of starting a living history village, similar to Greenfield Village, the one he eventually started here in Dearborn, Michigan.
From Tales of a Wayside Inn by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1863. / THF149892
Henry Ford and Clara Ford at the Wayside Inn, Sudbury, Massachusetts, circa 1923. / THF98987
But we are more than Longfellow and Frost. The Benson Ford Research Center’s collection of American poetry is a who’s who of everyone you remember from your high school English class. This includes the master of the macabre himself, Edgar Allen Poe. Our copy of The Raven is extra moody, with illustrations by Gustave Doré.
The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe, Published 1884. / THF274358
Just like the rest of the research center’s collection, our poetry tries to cover all facets of the American experience. We collect some contemporary words by Black poets, as well as big names of the Harlem Renaissance and a former Poet Laureate.
The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, 1995. / THF278643
Selected Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks, 1963. / THF149899
While we are very much an American history museum, sometimes we find things from across the pond in our stacks. A favorite from our collection is an illustrated copy of Shakespeare's work, complete with sonnets!
The Works of William Shakspere [sic], 1868. / THF149886
Not to be outdone by the masters, ordinary people would send Henry their poems about his cars.
Poem, "The New Ford Car," Sent to Henry Ford by Ethel Cooper, December 12, 1927. / THF274498
And last but not least…. Henry even gave the pen a try as well. Here he has written a sweet poem to his soon-to-be wife, Clara.
Poem, Written by Henry Ford for Clara Bryant, 1886-1888. / THF95972
IYFV Goal Two: Promoting diversified, balanced, and healthy diets and lifestyles through fruit and vegetable consumption.
Can Label, "Holly Brand Crushed Pineapples," California Packing Corporation, San Francisco, California, 1920-1940. / THF294147
The Henry Ford’s chefs promote healthy diets, the second goal, as part of their daily routines. They adapted recipes originally published by George Washington Carver and debuted them at Plum Market and Taste of History during 2021. You can read more about the process to perfect these mouth-watering entrees, side dishes, and desserts in our post “Beyond the Peanut: Food Inspired by Carver.” Carver dedicated his career to food advocacy, and his recipes and advice literature explain how people, often marginalized and victimized, can use “Healthy Food to Build Healthy Communities.”
IYFV Goal Three: Reducing losses and waste in fruits and vegetables food systems.
Farmer Feeding Pigs and Chickens, circa 1935./ THF621845
The third goal, to reduce food waste, immediately calls to mind the historical role of pigs on farms. Farmers (like the fellow in the photograph above) often fed skim milk or buttermilk, byproducts of dairy processing, to their pigs. The pigs at Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village benefit from this richness. Reducing food waste factors into regenerative agricultural practices because food waste can be composted and returned to the soil, adding nutrients and biomass—both essential for soil health. The Henry Ford’s internal Green Team incorporated composting into the strategic plan it developed during 2021. Firestone Farm presenters also reduce waste by composting garden waste and sheep bedding for use in gardens and farm fields. The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation crew filmed a story on regenerative agriculture during 2021—stay tuned for this episode to air during Season 9!
This page features two pears, “Lawrence” and “Triumph,” distributed by Stark Bro’s and illustrated in Stark Fruits as Grown by Stark Bro's Nurseries & Orchards Co., 1902, page 51. / THF610234
IYFV Goal Four:Sharing best practices on:
Promotion of consumption and sustainable production of fruits and vegetables that contributes to sustainable food systems;
Improved sustainability of storage, transport, trade, processing, transformation, retail, waste reduction and recycling, as well as interactions among these processes;
Integration of smallholders including family farmers into local, regional, and global production, value/supply chains for sustainable production and consumption of fruits and vegetables, recognizing the contributions of fruits and vegetables, including farmers’ varieties/landraces, to their food security, nutrition, livelihoods and incomes;
Strengthening the capacity of all countries, specially developing countries, to adopt innovative approaches and technology in combating loss and waste of fruits and vegetables.
The fourth goal, to improve supply chains, applies to two very different aspects of fruits and vegetables. One relates to the delivery of seasonal fruits and vegetables to points of sale. This was a business grew through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as pomologists addressed plant propagation, plant breeders like Luther Burbank created new varieties, and companies like Stark Bro’s Nurseries and Orchards Co. marketed their own plants for wholesale and retail markets. These topics and many others related to fresh fruits and vegetables are well represented in the collections of The Henry Ford.
These men and boys are grading pears by size and packing them immediately after picking into wooden crates marked C.F.C.A. (California Fruit Canners Association) No. 1 and C.P.C. (California Packing Corporation).Photograph Album, California Packing Corporation Operations, circa 1922, page 5. / THF276795
Individuals sought out fruit trees and berry-bearing shrubs from companies such as Stark Bro’s because farm families had to maintain orchards that yielded fruit for many purposes and over long periods of time, from summer through frost. Those without orchards relied on public markets, or the produce section in grocery stores, for their fresh produce. A refrigerated railcar represents the complex systems of moving and hauling perishable foodstuffs.
This commissary in Richmond Hill, Georgia, circa 1947, shows shelf after shelf of canned goods, including peas, pineapple juice, orange juice, V-8 juice, and peaches, as well as a “hand” of bananas hanging on the back wall. / THF135658
Rows of cans on grocery store shelves marked the end of road for many fruits and vegetables. Many depended on these inexpensive foodstuffs, but few had a sense of the scale of production required to satisfy this demand. One California Packing Corporation photograph album shows the establishment of a Del Monte orchard described as “the largest peach and apricot orchard in the world,” with these fruits all bound for canneries and drying facilities. The H.J. Heinz Company Collection documents all steps in the process, from laying out fields, planting and cultivating plants, harvesting, processing, packing, and loading the final product into railcars for distribution.
Planting trees, Tract #1, Spring 1920, Photograph Album, California Packing Corporation Ranches and Orchards, 1919-1927./ THF276721
Can Label, "Luxury Brand Solid Pack Tomatoes," circa 1916. / THF294205
These resources from the collections of The Henry Ford introduce some key elements that speak to the United Nations’ International Year of Fruits and Vegetables, but also to some of the most important themes around food in general—nutrition, health, waste reduction, and sustainable supply chains. As we anticipate introducing our visitors to the Vegetable Building from Detroit Central Market in Greenfield Village during 2022, we look forward to bringing you much more on all aspects of the food production system—from fresh to freeze-dried and beyond.
Debra A. Reid is Curator of Agriculture and the Environment at The Henry Ford.
When you think of museums—particularly history museums—it seems to make sense that they are inevitably all about the past. From an artifact collecting standpoint, there is an element of truth to this—most anything a museum can collect already exists and is already sliding into the past. But, putting aside ideas about the swift passage of time, it is important to understand that many museums—including The Henry Ford—do engage in what is known as “contemporary collecting.”
Contemporary collecting seeks to document history as it is happening, and relates to significant current events, trends, or cultural moments. When this collecting is done in the heat of the moment, especially when the conditions being documented are ever-changing or incredibly brief, it is known as “rapid response” collecting. Rapid response collecting relies on a well-tuned sense of what events will have greater historical significance—even after they are over—and requires a particularly proactive approach to gathering information and objects.
One example of contemporary collecting occurs every four years, when The Henry Ford collects material related to the presidential election cycle. This postcard, created by Sea Dog Press, is from our 2020 collecting initiative. More examples from that initiative can be found here. / THF622210
In early 2020, the world was overtaken by the COVID-19 virus. It soon became clear—as industries ground to a halt, scores of workers were sent home, and international travel all but ceased—that the pandemic would become a major moment in history. Upon this realization, the curatorial staff of The Henry Ford went to work, developing a rapid response plan to document the still-unfolding pandemic. When developing this plan, the curatorial staff was keen to ensure that these collecting efforts not only captured a vivid perspective on the pandemic but also built upon the uniqueness of our collections. They determined to focus on three broad themes: innovation on a nationally significant level, grassroots resourcefulness on the part of individuals, and ingenuity demonstrated by businesses and entrepreneurs. Within each of these categories, curators identified topics that had already begun to emerge, and noted potential objects or types of objects that could be acquired.
With the plan complete, it was presented to The Henry Ford’s Collections Committee—the chartered committee responsible for reviewing and approving all proposed additions to the collections of The Henry Ford. The majority of the committee’s business consists of taking a final vote as to whether or not an item should be accessioned—the term for officially adding an item to the collection. However, some acquisitions are discussed with the group before curators begin making final preparations to acquire them; this gives the committee an opportunity to weigh in on proposed acquisitions that may be more complex, or that would require a greater outlay of the institution’s time or resources. The committee also approves all collecting initiatives, as they typically involve special effort, or result in a larger number of acquisitions; having the committee’s endorsement ensures that the collecting can be adventurous and creative but within clear parameters. Once approved by the committee, the COVID-19 Collecting Initiative was put into place, and curators began gathering information and materials.
Our COVID-19 collecting initiative included outreach to people with items of interest, such as Brighid "Birdie" Pulskamp, a Diné craftswoman who created a beaded facemask featuring a traditional Navajo wedding basket design, as well as fabric masks that she sent to the Navajo Nation to help combat the spread of the virus on reservations. / THF186023, THF186021
While many acquisitions for the collection are actively sought out by our staff, others end up finding us. On September 9, 2020, Curator of Transportation Matt Anderson returned to Collections Committee with word that Ford Motor Company—with whom we have a long and fruitful relationship, particularly in regard to collecting—had reached out to him regarding a prototype COVID-19 testing van that they had developed. Ford Motor Company’s COVID-19 response—particularly their shift from manufacturing automobiles to producing equipment and supplies to aid in the fight against COVID-19—had already been a point of interest on our radar, and had been specifically identified in the collecting initiative.
After hearing the details of the acquisition, the Collections Committee gave Matt a “consensus to proceed” with the acquisition. Consensuses to proceed are given after an initial discussion of a potential acquisition, but before said acquisition is presented for final accessioning; they allow curators to proceed with making any necessary arrangements—like shipping—without overcommitting the institution, should the circumstances of an acquisition change.
Ford Transit Van, Modified for Use as a COVID-19 Mobile Testing Facility, 2020. / THF188109
In working with Ford Motor Company to arrange the donation of the COVID-19 testing van, Matt had the opportunity to discuss other COVID-19–related material that Ford had produced. Of particular interest were the ventilators produced at Ford’s Rawsonville plant. Ford indicated that they would be willing to offer us not one but three of those ventilators: a standard one, one signed by the Rawsonville workers, and one signed by President Donald Trump during his visit to the plant. Would The Henry Ford be interested in all three?
In considering objects, The Henry Ford also considers the stories they represent, and these three ventilators were no different. While one alone would have served to document Ford’s manufacturing response, collecting all three would allow us to tell a more multi-layered story. The blank ventilator is just like all the others that rolled off Ford’s assembly line; the one signed by the Rawsonville employees documents and celebrates the people who made Ford’s manufacturing feat possible; and the one bearing President Trump’s signature captures his historic visit to the plant. While we are always cautious of over-duplication in our collection, in this instance, while the objects themselves were similar, the elements of the story were distinct, and all were important to document via our collection.
In addition to the COVID testing van and ventilators, Ford Motor Company also offered numerous pieces of PPE (personal protective equipment) they had prototyped or produced: ventilator connectors, masks, face shields, a gown, and a door pull. Matt accepted all of these items and began preparing them for presentation to Collections Committee, crafting a justification for their addition for the collection and writing a brief summary of their historical significance. On November 11, 2020, the Collections Committee gave their final seal of approval, voting to approve the addition of the van, ventilators, and assorted PPE to The Henry Ford’s collection. With that, the process of rapid collecting—at least in the case of the Ford COVID-19 response acquisitions—had come full circle.
As it turned out, though, just as the pandemic continued on, so too did our collecting opportunities. Ford Motor Company reached out again in the new year with more PPE—this time, though, created for a very unique event: the 2021 inauguration of President Joseph Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in Washington, D.C. Ford had produced 15,000 single-use masks—in two designs, printed by Hatteras, Inc., in Plymouth, Michigan—to provide to those attending the ceremony. Matt Anderson gratefully accepted the 10 masks Ford offered us, noting their significance, as their production not only furthered Ford’s efforts to combat the spread of the virus, but also demonstrated Ford’s commitment to, in the words of the company’s president and CEO, Jim Farley, “a tradition so fundamental to our democracy.” Just like the testing van and other COVID-19 materials donated by Ford, these masks were presented to the Collections Committee for final approval, which was readily granted, and they became an official part of the collections of The Henry Ford.
This face mask, produced for the 2021 inauguration, represents a unique overlap of two contemporary collecting initiatives undertaken by The Henry Ford: documenting the 2020–2021 presidential election cycle and documenting the COVID-19 pandemic. / THF186524
Thanks to the quick thinking and eager work of the curatorial department and the efficient processes of the Collections Committee, The Henry Ford was able to start documenting the COVID-19 pandemic as it was happening, and—with the help of a well-established relationship with Ford Motor Company—quickly tick an important item (and then some) off our collecting wish list. The thoughtful work of our staff and the relationships they build with outside organizations prove time and again to be key elements of building our collections, whether that be through collecting the past or the present.
Lillian Schwartz working with a joystick interface at Bell Laboratories. Photo by Gerard Holzmann. / THF149836
In early 2021, The Henry Ford secured a very exciting donation: the Lillian F. Schwartz & Laurens R. Schwartz Collection. This material—which came to us through the generosity of the Schwartz family—spans from early childhood to late career and includes thousands of objects that document Lillian Schwartz’s expansive and inquisitive mindset: films and videos, two-dimensional artwork and sculptures, personal papers, computer hardware, and film editing equipment.
The late 1960s in California were a heady time in computing history. Massively influential technologies that are now part of our everyday lives were being invented or improved upon: home computers, the graphical user interface, the computer mouse, and ARPAnet. Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the country in New Jersey, the artist Lillian Schwartz was about to walk through the doors of revered technology incubator Bell Telephone Laboratories. Schwartz had recently met Bell Labs perceptual researcher Leon Harmon at the opening for the Museum of Modern Art’s group exhibition “The Machine at the End of the Mechanical Age.” Harmon and Schwartz each had work in the exhibit, and the pair struck up a conversation that led to an invitation for Lillian to visit the Labs.
A poster for the Museum of Modern Art exhibit that led to Schwartz and Leon Harmon’s friendship (top) and a portrait of Harmon painted by Schwartz (bottom). / THF18855, THF188581
This fateful meeting led to Schwartz’s decades-long tenure as a “resident visitor” at Bell Labs, where she was exposed to powerful equipment like the IBM 7090 mainframe computer and Stromberg Carlson SC-4020 microfilm plotter. Allowing artists access to this high-end research and development facility upended conventions, creating an environment that was fruitful for cross-disciplinary collaboration between the sciences, humanities, and arts. From 1968 until the early 2000s, Schwartz paid regular visits to the Labs, where she developed groundbreaking computer films and videos, and an impressive array of multimedia artworks.
University City (UCity), a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, began its curbside recycling program in March 1973. This makes it one of the first cities in the country to do so. By the early 1970s, many communities had created a recycling drop-off center and encouraged residents to haul their recycling to that destination. This required extra effort, and the city manager and public works staff in University City believed that other solutions needed to be developed. These recycling bins document the launch of this solution and the change required over time to reduce, reuse, and recycle. It certainly required rethinking!
The first Earth Day helped galvanize public engagement in environmentalism, and recycling was one of the primary issues in University City. Residents supported innovative thinking, and city officials assigned Public Works Director Allan Dierckgraef responsibility for figuring out how to get environmental materials out of a home or business while keeping them out of the dump and funneling them to recycling processors. UCity officials decided that they would start with newspapers, so in March 1973 they launched the TreeSaver program.
Recycling Bin, Designed for Use in University City, Missouri, 1973. / THF181541
Dierckgraef reached out to the Monsanto Corporation, headquartered in St. Louis, to design a durable container to hold two weeks of newspaper. The yellow plastic TreeSaver container resulted from this work. UCity purchased 12,000 of these bins for $43,000 and distributed one to each home along with instructions about how to use them. Need exceeded supply, and the city ordered more containers. The one pictured above is from the second run.
The sanitation division picked the containers up every two weeks, and the city contracted with the Alton (Illinois) Box Board Company to haul the materials away for further processing. Two years into the process, in March 1975, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch claimed that the "U. City Recycling Program [Was] In Trouble." The fee received from Alton Box Board Co. ($10 per ton) was below the market rate ($35 per ton) for newsprint. This reflected the rapid adoption of newspaper recycling programs—because supply exceeded demand, the amount processing companies were willing to pay dropped. City officials continued to justify the cost by turning to real environmental savings. City Manager Charles T. Henry (1959–1975) called the city-wide newspaper salvage “one of the most important recent accomplishments” (Post-Dispatch, May 15, 1975). Eight years into the program, in 1981, city officials estimated that recycling newsprint kept 85,000 trees from the paper mill.
Recycling Bin, 18-Gallons, Designed for Use in University City, Missouri, 1988-1989. / THF181537
The yellow bins supported one recycling effort—newsprint. When UCity began expanding the program to divert other materials—metal cans and plastics—from the landfill during the 1980s, the city had to redesign its bins. They retained the yellow bin for newsprint and paper but added a blue bin for other materials to support the new dual-stream recycling initiative. The city also had to purchase new equipment to facilitate pick-up. This included new specially designed two-sided trucks. Public works staff picked up the yellow TreeSaver bins and emptied them on one side while they emptied the contents of the blue bins on other side. This physically taxing labor occurred at the transition point from home to recycling stream.
TreeSaver Recycling Bin, 18 Gallon with the Recycling Logo and the Larger Waste-Management System Specified, Designed for Use in University City, Missouri, 1988-1989. / THF181538
During the early days of mixed recycling, markets did not exist for non-sorted materials. Thus, UCity had to build a sorting facility and hire staff to separate the cans, glass, and plastic. Each then had a separate point of sale to recycled material processors.
These recycling bins represent some of the many details that municipalities had to manage to launch and sustain recycling programs. The act of collecting materials at the curb is just one small step in the enormous undertaking of reducing waste streams.
Debra A. Reid is Curator of Agriculture and the Environment at The Henry Ford.